Violence is almost as American an activity as baseball. This country was liberated by war; our forefathers were nothing more than wig wearing rebel rousers. This fact, I’m sure, was not lost on British artist Russell Young when he first envisioned A History of Violence.
In March, Bagatelle teamed up with Keszler Gallery to present a private viewing of the exhibit. Young’s work added a sassy energy to the romantic French bistro. The dimly lit chandeliers and track lighting glimmering off the freshly painted silk screens gave the restaurant sex appeal. It was a delight to sip wine and watch Russell create right before our eyes.
Before the art world beckoned, Russell past incarnations included celebrity photography and directing music videos. A History of Violence examines the connection this country has to violence through iconic imagery and eye popping color. I’m sure Russell’s background in photography aided in his selections of photos, which were stunning and told individual stories that help to contribute to the entire visual narrative.
Hollywood has always had a fascination with the Wild West; in fact movies depicting boisterous stories from that time help to save Hollywood and television. Shows like Wagon Training, The Rifleman and Maverick taught generations of kids about the rough frontier existence, morality and how violence is sometimes a necessary part of living. No movie sums these lessons up better than The Magnificent Seven. The movie was just as majestic as the soundtrack. To see Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and company astride their steeds, ready to save the day, all in pink plays with the ideas of masculinity, vigilantism and heroism.
What makes bad boys so appealing? It is a question that has perplexed parents and their daughters since the beginning of time. Russell chose one of the ultimate bad boys to make his statement about the allure of a man who lives outside of the law, makes his own rules and still has a heart –Marlon Brando in The Wild One. Painted boldly in red, Brando in his biker gear and looking defiant as ever in dark shades shows exactly why the bad boy is so tantalizing – there is nothing more intoxicating than the idea of a man being able to protect a woman from peril and no one messes with a bad boy.
Beauty, at times can be tragic, like a moon plant that dies in the face of dawn. The photo of Marilyn Monroe trying to shield her face as she suffers is the epitome of tragic, fragile beauty. This photo shows that sometimes the violence can come from within and is inflicted on ourselves.
The most compelling installation completed that night was of a gun cataloged by police. By sight it is an ordinary handgun until the audience learned that it is a photo of the gun that killed John Lennon. Instead of paint, Russell uses blood.
Mouths hung as Russell smeared the blood on the silk screen. The silence in the room while he is creating the piece was beyond creepy as we all came face to face with the mayhem that a violent mind can create. As we sipped our wine in this trendy restaurant, the idea that violence is a part of our history and our present was never clearer to me. Safety is only a hope, not a guarantee.
The Dali Lama stated, “It is my belief that whereas the twentieth century has been a century of war and untold suffering, the twenty-first century should be one of peace and dialogue. As the continued advances in information technology make our world a truly global village, I believe there will come a time when war and armed conflict will be considered an outdated method of settling differences among nations.” It is this sentiment that came to mind when I witnessed the canvas of President Obama shimmering in gold paint.
It is no wonder the photo sold that night, Obama represented hope and change to many around the world, and is the perfect visual representation of historical change. Art is at its best when it stimulates your senses. The History of Violence did that and more.
Photos courtesy of KB Network News and http://www.russellyoung.com